When people find out what I do, they almost always ask me for book recommendations, and that almost always puts me on the spot: don’t you hate that? I mean the feeling of blanking out, being like a deer in the headlights. Not the being asked about a book, that part’s nice. Anyway, in grad school I read a book (well, many many many books, but this is about only one of them) entitled The Bone People by New Zealand author Keri Hulme. The book is “about” so many things, carries and intertwines so many themes, and delights post-colonialist scholars with its angsty representation of a culture torn apart by colonization. Blah blah blah. Who cares about any of that? Well, okay, who cares about any of that here, in blogland, where we’re all “off duty”? This book is good. It’s a good book.
I’m not going to write any spoilers because who knows, you may want to get the book from your local library or book store, so no need to skip this bit. The book (I used to have a professor who hated, and I mean positively loathed the word “book” because she felt it belittled the “text”; Geez. And no, Max, no one you know, that was elsewhere. Anyway, the book) focuses on three main characters Kerewin, Joe, and Simon. Kerewin has a “past” and has run away to the beaches of New Zealand to hide from it, and she finds herself drawn to the mute and orphaned Simon–a little boy who is being raised by Joe, who has problems of his own to cope with. The three join together, pull apart, rejoin. But even knowing this much, it’s not at all predictible, and it’s never what you think. And don’t you just love that in a book?
As the book goes on, their story unfolds, the reader is drawn into this story and the representation of both the land and its inhabitants, but even more engrossing (to me) is the use of the Maori language to communicate ideas that both bridge and widen the distance between the native tribes and the English-speaking inhabitants. Fortunately for me and anyone else who doesn’t speak or read Maori, Hulme includes a dictionary of terms and their translations for us. The words she chooses to include are often important to the themes (if not always the plot), so it’s a pretty good idea to flip back and forth to work out what’s being said. Otherwise, it’s a straight, smooth, engrossing read.
Anyone interested in the human heart, history, various cultures, mystery, the supernatural, loss, love, symbolism, loyalty, dreams, and/or a plain old good story should definitely check this one out. One word of caution, however, many of the themes are heavily religious, so if this isn’t of interest to you, it may not be your type of book. The religions denoted are Christian (who could have guessed that from the three central characters, right?) and some sort of pagan religious ideal (not a religion–something deeper, more intuited, less man-made) predating the colonization and influence of Christianity. Oh, and if such things matter to you, The Bone People won the Booker Prize back in 1985.